Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry

Today is World Environment Day. Time to go shopping!

In fact, of course, reducing the amount of stuff we buy is probably the most important thing that a consumer can do to save the planet. Currently, we purchase unsustainable amounts of stuff; shopping is regarded as a leisure pursuit, even though every item we buy which we're not actually going to use (need, of course, is impossible to measure) has involved a manufacturing process, packaging and has been transported to us - sometimes from the other side of the world.

However, since life has to be worth living if it's going to be worth saving, a good place to start reducing one's impact on the environment is by looking at the really boring activities we can't avoid. Who takes pleasure in buying wash powder or stand around waiting for an inefficient kettle to boil? Exactly; no sacrifice involved. And in the long term, all of these things save money.

Most of these things I've mentioned before, but I thought I'd put them all in the same place.

Eco-balls!1. Eco-Balls

You stick the Eco-Balls into the washing machine instead of using powder. The balls contain thingies which ionised the oxygen particles in the water and bash the clothes clean on a molecular level. It really works. It works as well as biological powder and these are supposed to last for 1000 washes - which would use a lot of washing powder.

This is also great from my point of view because there's no heavy box of powder to lift and nothing to spill. Also my gruesome skin itches a great deal less.

Downside: We have been programmed to associated a synthetic floral fragrance with cleanliness, whereas the Eco-Balls don't smell of anything. Despite being convinced of their effecacy, I couldn't persuade my Mum to buy some as she felt things didn't smell clean.

Price: Other than eBay, the cheapest price currently appears to be £27.50 at Cap Carbon where there is a money-back guarantee and you can get £10 is you also buy...

Dryer Balls!2. Dryer-Balls

When you can't dry things outside for whatever reason, the dryer-balls reduce the time things take to dry in the tumble dryer and soften your clothes while there at it. My experience suggests a drying time-reduction of about a third, although this must vary. So you save time and money on electricity.

Downside: They can be rather noisy.

Price: See above for the offer at Cap Carbon, otherwise £7.99 at ecoTime. I've seen them for three or four quids on eBay as well.

3. Bicarbonate of Soda / Sodium Bicarbonate / Baking Soda

Bicarbonate of Soda is a main ingredient in lots and lots of cleaning products but can be effective without the additional chemicals and packaging of shop-bought stuff It is really effective at shifting miscellaneous muck and quite fun to play Mad Scientists with, on account of the fizz it makes when coming into contact with anything acidic.

I use the stuff for everything from stopping strong foods smells contaminating the milk in the fridge through to washing my hair. However, a far more comprehensive list than I could ever manage can be found here: Sixty-One Uses for Baking Soda.

Downside: Bicarbonate of Soda can leave a powdery residue anywhere you failed to rinse properly.

Price: Because it's also a main ingredient in Bath Bombs, you can buy Bicarbonate of Soda in large quantities from shops that supplier folks who hand-make cosmetics. Just a Soap seems the cheapest for amounts you don't need an extra cupboard for storage (although note the prices exclude VAT).

The Eco-Kettle4. The Eco-Kettle

The Eco-Kettle is so cool! It consisters of two cyclinders; you fill the inner one with water and the push the exact quantity of water you wish to boil into the outer cyclinder. It then boils extremely quickly. You don't have to worry about exposed elements or anything like that. It is great and is purported to save about 30% electricity - a significant saving for a tea junkie like myself.

Measurement is in cups, as in tiny wee tea cups, so you have to work out how many cups of water fit into a grown-up mug. It is a bit heavier than an ordinary kettle. I also think it requires more strength in one's hands to work than your average kettle. Therefore, not one for people with signifcant weakness in their hands.

Price: These come up relatively cheap on eBay as unwanted presents, but the postage is usually steep. I got mine for £29.50 at the Ethical Superstore, where you get free teabags, you get a free gift anyway and you might find that you've accidentally bought a shedload of Fair Trade Chocolate at the same time (Actually, the Ethical Superstore is also great for your Teabags, which you can buy relatively cheaply in bulk.)

It is expensive for a kettle but you can go a lot dearer - here is a £60 kettle and it doesn't even look as cool. You can buy a kettle for a fiver, but those things only last about six months.

5. Vinegar

Vinegar is a super all-purpose cleaner. It cleans. Everything. It is antiseptic and antibacterial, it'll eat through grease, rust and all manner of crud. However, a far more comprehensive list than I could ever manage can be found here: Wise Bread's 242 uses for Vinegar. And Counting.

Downside: I don't like the smell of vinegar, even though it doesn't linger at all. Lemon juice is a good additive or even an alternative when this is important. Also, because of the acidity, you have to be careful about certain surfaces (I can't use it to clean the vast marble surfaces of our bungalow, for example).

Price: Uh, I don't know, we buy it with my groceries. We get the clear distilled stuff which probably tastes foul on your chips.

6. The Mooncup/ Keeper/ Menstrual Cup

I wrote an entire post about this last year, which covers the advantages and disadvantages of this method of sanitary protection.

Price: Just now, the cheapest would appear to be £17.99 at the Ethical Superstore, although I got mine cheaper than that. Look out for special offers. Also while we're on the distasteful subject of bodily functions...

The Weenee... no I can't bring myself to say it again7. Weenee Pouch Pants
(sorry; that's what they're called)

This is my nephew Alexander's recommendation. It's a compromise between the convenience of disposable nappies and the ecological advantages of Terry Towels. What you have is a washable brief with a waterproof gusset, as it were. In this gusset fits a liner which is disposable and biodegradable. So Alexander's nappy doesn't need changing completely every time he goes to the toilet; the liner can just be thrown away. And when the nappy is changed, it can be washed and worn again.

Downside: Not as convenient as disposable nappies when on the move. When Alex stays away from home he prefers nappies you can just throw away. Or at least, his Mummy and Daddy do. Also, I imagine there is more of an issue with the growing size of a baby than with Terry Towels which you can adjust as you go along - I forgot to ask.

Price: These are bloody expensive; apparently at £11.99 a pair everywhere - although I can recommend Spirit of Nature having bought stuff from there myself. A good source for condoms which are suitable for vegans and biodegradeable.

You know, I'm sure there are other things, but that's all I can think of today.


Sharon McDaid said...

My 6 yo wears pull-ups at night. We get them free from the health authority, and use an average of 2 per night. I would prefer to use something washable, but I haven't taken the time to look into options for bigger children.

But the Mooncup, it is fabulous. I can't imagine ever wanting to use tampons again.

fluttertongue said...

Thank you, Goldfish. Just to say, by reducing the amount we buy and throw away we're not just doing our bit for the environment, but on a very deep level, helping to combat unequal global resource distribution.

Anonymous said...

you can also combine the vinegar with the bicarb (carefully, as you point out, it fizzes up!) with water and some of your favorite essential oil to make a good fabric conditioner in the washing machine. Just mix 1/2 pint vinegar with a couple teaspoons of bicarb (carefully) in an old, cleaned out fabric conditioner bottle, then add the same again of water, put some essential oil drops in, put the lid back on, then shake hard. Use the same amount you'd use fabric conditioner for, in the same way. Its great for the machine too - cleans out washing powder gunk and helps scour the pipes clean :)

also for those of a handy bent, you can make your own (reuseable) sanitary towels, they fasten onto pants by means of a popper (bending around the gusset of the pants) and you just wash em, much like reuseable nappies. I can provide a link if anyone's interested.


Lady Bracknell said...

At the risk of exposing myself as the dullest person in the world, Lakeland are currently offering their version of the laundry ball (usually £7.99) free with orders of £55 or over.

The Goldfish said...

Sharon - A quick search found these which are washable incontinence pants which go up from 2 to 11 years. I have no idea how practical that would be though, if you had to wash just two pairs of pants every day...

Fluttertongue - yes, you're quite right. I often hear folks argue that if people don't spend money, then people in the developing world will lose out. But no; we keep spending, we keep using resources and the developing world keeps losing out.

Kethry - thanks for the tip. If you have a link about making your own reusable sanitary towels I would be curious, despite my satisfaction with the mooncup. Although I must admit I already have visions of embroidered or monogrammed pads...

Lady Bracknell - I don't imagine that anybody has or will ever use the word "dull" in reference to yourself. Wow, that is very cheap; I hope this means the technology is moving at a pace and becoming more and more affordable.

Although, I do notice they reckon their laundry ball will last for 100 washes, whereas my three Eco-balls promise 1000 washes. So the Lakeland ball might be a good one to try it out; the Eco-balls do work out better value for money.

How is that for dull? ;-)

Gone Fishing said...

Bath Bombs dear oh dear somebody will be watching you!

Amazing NY ariport apparently uses 8,000,000 Gallons of jet fuel per DAY? A rather sobering thought! no wonder oxygen is in short supply! (Ol Nobby previously Rocky but he had to go!

seahorse said...

Goldfish I was wondering only the other day whether you had expanded on your eco habits as listed in an earlier post. I am especially interested in how you wash your hair with bicarbonate of soda. Is there any process to withdrawing from shampoo? Please tell more. Plus ethical clothing, where purchased online if pos (I do charity shops largely owing to no cash but would like to know where some ethical clothing might be available if I ever want stuff for me or my son). Thanks

Kev said...

I think those Kylie Pants might lack the absorbency needed for a night time nappy, if that's what you are looking for, Sharon. They look great for toilet training though. I'd suggest taking a look at (depending on the size, and the absorbency needs of your 6 year old) Mother-Ease Bedwetter Pants, Mother of Eden Overnight Undies, or alternatively, there is a Scottish companies called Minki Nappies (www.nappiesbyminki.co.uk) who will custom make fleece pocket nappies for older children. Michaela, who owns the company, is extremely helpful.

Goldfish, sorry for hijacking your comments section with all that info!

I love my Mooncup, and I also use washable pads. I am thinking of taking the plunge with the wash balls, but it's the muddy football kit which makes me waver, I must confess.

Oh, I also love E-Cloth's range; I have mops and cleaning cloths which need no detergent. And they really work.

Anonymous said...

Goldfish - as requested..

I got the info from here (http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.html?t=188741&highlight=making+own+sanitary+towels) a thread on a moneysaving board about making your own. There are some sarcastic comments (the one about the baby sock *is* sarcasm!) and some vitriol (my, people get het up about this issue!) but its worth a read through.

Direct links to two possible pages, one for instructions to make your own: http://www.geocities.com/thixle/diypads_tutorial.html
and one to buy them ready made: http://www.lunapads.com/. As you can see, monogrammed pads are more than possible!!!

Hope those links work!


Anonymous said...

I have bladder weakness and use LunaPads for comfort and security. They are wonderfully comfortable, come in lovely fabrics (it's always exciting to see what fabrics I get when I order more) and because of the liner system I can add more for worse days. www.natural-woman.co.uk is probably the best place to get them if you want them shipped within the UK. or a folded up flannel works well but can be bulky.

The Goldfish said...

Old Nobby - Very true. Our attitude to air travel is bizarre. In the UK there are all sorts of moves to try and persuade us to use our cars less, which is fine on a level, but at the same time they are talking about expanding our airports and air travel remains artificially cheap. I don't believe we should stop flying altogether, but it is so very cheap and viewed so very casually when it is a major major contributor to carbon emissions.

The Goldfish said...

Kev - nothing wrong with hijacking comments if it's useul information. :-)

Kethry - Thanks for the links! It is weird that folks can be so opinionated about the contents of other people's underwear...

Emma - Thanks for that too. :-)

The Goldfish said...

Seahorse -

Ideally, the best way to stop using shampoo is to stop it altogether, stick to warm water alone and in about six to eight weeks; anyone I have ever heard or read about who made it that far people finds the hair becomes cleaner of it's own accord.

Except for me. I was surprised by the fact that the few four or five days were the worse, after which it stopped itching and actually looked a bit better. But then I have the hormonal balance of a (particularly hormonal) teenager and my hair just wouldn't stop being seriously manky. Thus the Bicarbonate of Soda.

You just need to mix it really well, make enough to give your hair a good soaking, massage it a bit and then rinse very thoroughly. I don't think there's any need to do anything more than that. A vinegar rinse is supposed to give your hair a lovely shine, but I can't stand the smell to put it on my hair.

Okay, Ethical clothes...

Thing about ethical clothes is you have the environmental impact of the production on the one hand and the conditions and pay of the workforce. The only way to counteract the environmental impact altogether is not to buy new things. So ebay it is. ;-)

However, since sometimes we can't get what we want second hand, Nomads is my favourite Fair Trade clothes shop, although that's largely to my taste, not everyone's. Cheapest is probably Remould although they don't have a huge range of clothes or sizes.

There's also One World is Enough and who have some children's clothes. As do Bishopston Trading which is more conservative.

Somewhat dearer but again, perhaps more sedate in design are The People Tree and Traidcraft

None of this stuff is cheap, but a lot of them have sale sections.

The best fair trade children's clothes shop I am aware of is Su Su Ma Ma Worldwear which sells extremely funky children's clothes which aren't overly expensive (compared to other new things I've seen in other shops). Some of the stuff is a bit wacky - I have no idea how fashion-conscious a six or seven year old boy might be. ;-)

There are other places, a lot of places that just sell t-shirts. There may be places that sell clothes massively different to my somewhat Bohemian tastes but they wouldn't have come onto my radar. ;-)

seahorse said...

Thanks Goldfish, this was a really informative post. I have very long red hair, and may get it cut for the first time since I don't know when before giving this a whirl. My main use for bicarb at the mo is to dissolve blackened saucepan insides (usually porridge that I don't get back to on time). Am pleased to note it doesn't dissolve hair :-)

BloggingMone said...

On Ecco Balls: Unfortunately I share your mother's opinion that clothes should be smelling clean after having been washed. There is an environment friendly solution even to that problem: Here you can find biodegradable perfum oil to add to one's washing. It is meant to be added to self made washing powder (the company is selling the ingredience), but may also be used with ecco balls. The site is in German - sorry!

Katie said...

Goldfish -

Great post. One question about the Eco kettle. My dad bought one and I have found it to be the most inaccessible kettle known to mankind, heavy with lots of fiddly bits. But I've only ever used it on short visits to my parents.

You obviously get on with it OK. Do the fiddly bits become easier over time? Even for the malco-ordinated?


Rose G said...

I've had similar problems and we've used a few of the types of underwear on this page useful... www.welcomemobility.co.uk/Departments/Bedroom/Incontinence-Underwear.aspx

As I say, I've tried a few and they've all been effective.

Rose G.